By: Ross 'Tweakmonster' Wenger, July 2002


"The times they are a changing...." How many times have you heard that line? Quite a bit I'm sure, because it's true. Gone is the era when fast megahertz was all that the computer modder had in mind. It's one thing to have a fast computer, but to have it look just as excellent as it performs is a whole different can-o-worms, and is catching on more and more each day.


One of the simplest and most effective ways to turn an ordinary tweaker's rig into one that stands out from the rest is to light up the inside of the case. There are numerous ways to do this, with the most popular methods being to install either a neon tube, or a cold cathode. However, both of these solutions are bulky and quite limited as far as the customization possiblities go. Another readily available solution is Lightstrips.

Recently I had some free time, and have been needing to clean and upgrade my machine, so I took the opportunity to add some custom Lightstrip ideas I had to it while it was down for a moment.


As you can see from the picture above, it's a good idea to have a large enough workspace to spread everything out while you work. It definitely makes reassembly a heck of a lot faster and efficient, and can keep you from possibly damaging something in all the clutter and mayhem.

Before I go any further, the one thing I cannot stress enough is how important it is to use an anti-static device such as a workstation mat, or atleast a wrist strap. Even though it may not be immediately evident, just from handling you are slowly degrading the electronics from electrostatic discharges. Hey.......if you're like me and have hundreds of dollars invested into your computer, it makes little sense to risk destroying something by not taking proper CHEAP precautions to prevent electrostatic discharges. In fact, usually computer components won't die from static electricity immediately......they will just start acting funnier and funnier, until they finally go kaput for good. Either way, just like a CPU spacer, it's cheap insurance. Either get some, or roll the dice. Let's move on.



I began in the usual way that I prepare for all of my modding grabbing a tall glass of my favorite beverage (a must for modding in my book...) and then I gutted the Lian Li PC-65 case and cleaned all the dust and junk out of the RAID array and the drive bays. It's amazing how much filth can build up after a couple months, even with fan filters installed.


While I was inside the now vacant space, I took the opportunity to replace the factory dual 80mm intake fans with some Sunon high flow ones I picked up from my buddy Scott over at HighSpeedPC. This should help the case airflow quite a bit, based on the amount of hot air the Delta fan pulls out of the Alpha PAL-8045 heatsink An Excellent combination for an Athlon processor, by the way.



I'll tell can really appreciate the way these Lian Li cases are made when it comes to disassembly and reassembly of your system. Every edge is smoothed, every surface is polished, and the individual parts go together with no effort whatsoever and all with thumb screws. Work with one, and then you'll understand where your $200 bucks for that case went.



The massive Alpha PAL-8045 heatsink can be seen here atop the MSI K7T266 Pro2-RU motherboard I am currently running. It runs well @145 FSB, which is where I tend to leave it for day to day work. I have plans for the shroud that goes in between the heatsink and the CPU fan.....

Once everything was cleaned up and dusted, it was time to install the new case lighting, courtesy of the Tweakmonster Lightstrips. For the mod, I didn't so much want a huge amount of bright light in one area. I wanted more of a spread out overall illuminated glowing look that would highlight, instead of flood. I decided this would be best accomplished by installing numerous individual Lightstrip pieces in different locations. Especially seeing as that's one of the best features Lightstrips have.......the ability to be cut down to any length, and have all pieces burn on their own.



I began by attaching one piece of blue Lightstrip to the bottom rail that the motherboard tray slides into the case on. This should add a nice glow around the edges of the motherboard without getting in the way of anything.



Next, I added another piece of blue Lightstrip the same way to the top rail of the motherboard tray slide. I have noticed that sometimes these Lightstrips can be difficult to get to stick permanently. While this can be good for those that wish to test their installation locations for a while before settling on a permanent one, for the others who wish to 'mount it and be done with it', it can be a pain in the butt.


When this happens, I have found the best way to get them to stick where and how you want them is to heat both the Lightstrip and the mounting surface a little bit with a hair dryer on low setting. This makes the adhesive a bit more sticky. After that, it's no problem keeping them stuck where you want them, but it will take a bit of effort to get them removed again.


While I was deciding on the best way to distribute light evenly throughout the case, I had the idea of wrapping a piece of Lightstrip around the aluminum shroud that goes over the top of the Alpha PAL 8045 heatsink. In theory, this shroud is designed mainly to help create a wind tunnel of sorts around the heatsink,and thus increase the flow rate when air is moved through it across the heatsink fins. The Delta 80mm I have strapped to the top sucks air up through the heatsink, instead of blowing air through it. Even though Alpha recommends this method, I did some testing of my own, and found the temps of the CPU were roughly the same whether the fan blew or sucked. However, it did seem to make a bit less noise when it sucked, and that is what ultimately made my decision. Quieter is better anyway you look at it, especially if there is an undetectable difference in performance.



Now this type of application is when the 'hair dryer trick' really helps out because there are sharp corners to bend around, and you don't want the Lightstrip to bow out and look like crap when you're finished. Heating the Lightstrip helps to make it nice and pliable, as well as warms up the adhesive underneath, so it sticks and stays. As you can see, the results were perfect.



Here is how the finished Alpha now looks with the Lightstrip installed on it's shroud, the power inverter wire soldered to it, and the massive Delta fan strapped back to the top. This should be hella purdy when it's turned on! Next, it's time to find a nice little out-of-the-way spot to mount the Lightstrip power inverter and finish up the mod!



While things were apart, I took some time to clean up the Gainward GeForce3 Powerpack. The all copper Icicle cooler that is mounted to the GPU has a Sunon 50 x 50 x 15 strapped to it, which really blows some air across the heatsink for it's size. This fan was provided to me by my buddy Gary over at Sidewinder Computers. The core will run at 255 mhz stable with this solution. The Tin plated copper RAMsinks (early revision..) really help bring out the red color of the PCB, and are efficient enough to push the DDR memory up to 595 mhz! All together, the card probably weighs in at around 2 lbs! That's alot of copper!



Once installed, the inverter never needs to be seen again. With this in mind, I decided to mount it in a location that would be out of the way. They also tend to create a little bit of heat, so it's best to mount it in an area that is higher in the case (hot air always rises...) and will allow the small amount of extra heat to stay out of the motherboard area of the case. As you can see, this area of the Lian Li is a perfect choice, while also allowing for easy access to it if need be in the future.


Time to make the final connections!


There are two sets of two wires that run in and out of the inverter. The red and black lines are the +12v (red) and -12v (black) for input power from the power supply. The two white wires that exit the other end are the lines that supply the inverted power to the individual Lightstrip pieces. In this mod, there is a total of 3 separate Lightstrips installed in different locations, each with its' own wires that must be connected to these inverter output lines.


Polarity is not a concern for the inverter output lines, however the input lines to it are polarity sensitive, and must be connected to the computer's power supply correctly.


For quick and easy Lightstrip connections to the inverter output lines, I chose to use crimp-on style automotive spade connectors, so in case there is ever a want to remove or add a Lightstrip, it will be nice and simple to do.


The last task in this mod is to add a switch to the case lighting to allow it to be turned on or off at will. Since I did not want to go drilling holes in my $200 aluminum case when I don't have to, I decided to make use of one of my favorite things for this purpose...the Digital Doc 5 fan controller. It works perfectly by turning the lighting on or off with a single button, and requires no extra switches or drill holes. Just connect the inverter power lines to a 3 pin connector, and plug it into the back of the Digital Doc 5 on one of the fan channels. Problem solved.


Put everything back together, and for the finishing touch, I added a custom 'Tweakmonster' window badge I had specially made to complete it all.



As you can see, the mod turned out quite nice indeed. The pictures don't do it anywhere enough justice. Not bad for an otherwise boring evening.

The Lightstrips featured in this article can be had from the Tweakmonster Store